Stray Bats — a chapbook

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Dachshund droids, sinister crones, shapeshifting children, a plethora of witches, dragonstalkers, familiars, slithering eels and, of course, bats, flit and fly through these pages, aided and abetted by Kathleen Jennings’s inspired pencil drawings. Stray Bats is a madcap miscellany consisting of fifty vignettes based on poems by Australian women. Lanagan delights in playing with language, rhyme, and rhythm.

This could be the perfect gift for that slightly otherworldly person in your life—or for yourself, when you need a moment of magic, a dip into darkness, a spark of light.

For the reader who would like to explore further, there are a list of poems that inspired the author and notes on where those poems might be found.

Small Beer Press have just announced this new chapbook, which Margo and I have been secretly working on — it’s so exciting that it will be a real book in the world in November! Pre-orders are open now on Small Beer’s website, and Margo and I will both be at World Fantasy in LA.

January Short Book Reviews

Bath Tangle – Georgette Heyer. I enjoyed the characters in this novel – the headstrong (of course), beautiful & independent heroine and the contrast to her much quieter, gentler, younger widowed stepmother who, while reticent and shy and loving a very different life from her stepdaughter, is not disapproved of for that; the magnificent and self-aware vulgarity of the fabulous Mrs Floor, who uses her family’s opinion of her to further her own ends; the silly young lovers, the unwise decisions of older couples, people who were once in love realising slowly that the person they thought they remembered has changed, or never existed. Heyer does write characters very well, and although I wish they weren’t all so unmitigatedly beautiful, quite frequently I end up liking them in spite of that.

Regency Buck – Georgette Heyer. I like the setup of this – brother and sister making their way to set up life in London in spite of the advice of their guardian cross paths with an arrogant and offensive young man on their way and arrive in London to find out that he is their guardian. Enjoyable, although not my favourite (possibly because I did not find Judith, for all her capability and enterprise, as much as some of Heyer’s other heroines) and containing the excellent piece of advice that if you cannot be beautiful, you should be odd. I have noted that Georgette Heyer does seem to have a rather low opinion of brothers. They often turn out alright in the end, but they don’t usually seem to be very admirable characters for most of the book.

Life Expectancy – Dean Koontz. Aimee told me to read this because the family of bakers, web designers, and pet-portrait artists, living their eccentric night-time life, beset by crazed clowns and scheming dynasties of trapeze artists, reminded her of my family. And she was quite right – their dinner time conversations were not at all unlike ours. One line contained in the book, prelude to an account of the perils of unrestrained flatulence, was “Grandmother Weena had a relevant story…” and the day after I read that passage to my parents, my grandmother called and, over speaker phone, actually said, “That reminds me of a relevant story…” and began a tale about being discovered on the wrong plane during WWII. But the book reminded me a of Gaiman, in the accounts of small desperately peculiar lives which appear so normal to the characters in the story.

White Tiger – Aravind Adiga. More mainstream/literary than I usually read, but an intriguing and entertaining book and told from within a culture I’m not familiar with, as all of the books I have read about India have been written from a British perspective. Education, class, murder, entrepeneurship and a series of letters dictated late at night to the prime minister of China.

A Company of Swans – Eva Ibbotson. One of Ibbotson’s adult novels, this is the story of Harriet who escapes her dull and loveless family in Cambridge by running away with the ballet to perform in Manaus along the Amazon River. Although it is not my favourite of her books, I enjoyed it, the beauty and melodrama and exotic scenes, and the fact that although the ballet itself is portrayed as very beautiful, the life and effort of the ballerinas is not completely glamorised.  The morality of this, as in other of Ibbotsons books, is a little peculiar – seemingly amoral and then retreating into fairly traditional endings. I haven’t worked out my thoughts about that yet.

Journey to the River Sea – Eva Ibbotson. A gratifying little book, with more depth than some children’s and YA novels I’ve read recently. By depth I don’t mean “layers” or “themes”, just… meat? A book that’s more like stew than soup? Something to sink teeth into? It’s quite charming and very much in the way of A Little Princess or Little Lord Fauntleroy (the latter features directly) and set again along the Amazon River (a year or two before A Company of Swans but written 16 years later) – it has English governesses and boats and wicked relatives and charming Russian families and giant sloths and museums and opera houses in the middle of the jungle and traveling theatre troupes and missing heirs and oppressed orphans. Great fun.

Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine. I’ve only seen the movie once, and a few years ago now, but it put a big block in front of my enjoyment of the book on its own terms. Also, I was trying to read it as a Diana Wynne Jones sort of story and as Aimee pointed out later it is more of an Eva Ibbotson tale, even though it’s in a fairytale setting. I did enjoy it, and I liked the characters much better than in the movie (Ella more put-upon and more capable, Char not at all annoying), but I wanted it to be a little deeper (although that is very likely a hangover from the blithe superficiality of the movie).

My God, It’s a Woman – Nancy Bird. Not an autobiography to read for its literary quality, but one which related a fascinating time and lives. It is not so much an account of Nancy Bird Walton’s life as a survey of the early years of aviation in Australia and around the world and is full of accounts of planes found nose down in Chinese vegetable gardens, of pilots navigating through bushland by telegraph lines (because if you got into trouble you could land on the cleared strip, climb a pole, cut the line and wait for a technician to come and rescue you), of hair-raising landings, of lives and loves lost without a trace over oceans, of thrilling air-races, planes that were known to fly backwards during sandstorms, the forgotten women pilots of WWII, of Thai princesses smuggling persian kittens into the planes of pilots, of pilots lost and found in New Guinea, of the surprise of a farmwife at having two women land in her paddock and come up to the house for morning tea, of heroics and politics and a young woman trying to make a living as a charter pilot in outback Qld and NSW during the 1930s. It did not have an index, which would have helped a lot as the structure of the book is sometimes confusing, but it did have an excellent bibliography which I am tempted to read through.

Tender Morsels – Margo Lanagan. I’m surprised at how controversial this book has been, particularly given the novels of Sheri S Tepper, McKinley, etc. I think a distinction can be drawn between Horrible Books in which Things Happen, and Books in which Horrible Things happen, and this was one of the latter, although unlike some in that camp I would still recommend it (with caution) to those I know who are particularly sensitive to those things. I thought it was a beautiful book, inspired by the strange weirdness of the fairytale of Snow White and Rose Red and spinning that into a weird and poignant story all of its own which reminded me of Tepper’s Beauty in the uncomfortable edges of it and the way Lanagan made something wholly separate from and yet true to the original tale, and of McKinley’s Deerskin in the way the wonder and sorrow and beauty and love grow from something terrible, and (surprisingly) of Diana Wynne Jones or Hayao Miyazaki by the end in the strength of the characters which emerge and the way people must learn to make lives in spite of, and because of, being human and in a broken world.

Also: Ezra, Nehemiah, Matthew, Acts

2008 Aurealis Awards

Aimee and I went to the Aurealis Awards this weekend and had a great time. We went to the (blessedly airconditioned) Judith Wright Centre early for the launch of Trudi Canavan’s The Magician’s Apprentice and the awards began at 6.30. Congratulations to all the winners and nominees! It was lovely to congratulate some of the winners in person, and to be gratified by the judges’ choices of my personal preferences (e.g. Shaun Tan’s win) and to talk to judges and hear about what goes into the decisions (a lot of reading and customised bookmarks).

Edited to add: the Governor of Queensland attended this year, which was lovely!

The highlight, of course (apart from the airconditioning) was just being able to catch up with old friends and acquaintances and make new ones and put faces to Facebook profiles. I got to thank Ron Serdiuk of Pulp Fiction (Press and Bookshop) in passing (he moved around a lot) for his efforts as coordinator, meet Lynne Green in person, after a few minutes where we sort of hedged around trying to work out if we were the person in the Facebook photos (mine is a drawing and hers is psychadelic), and many of the Vision and Clarion South people who were there, and spent most of the evening sitting cross-legged on the floor near the bar talking with John Catania (who was a judge in the childrens’ section) and Patrick Jones. We had a very good reason for sitting on the floor in the busiest area of the venue, but I recommend it generally – you can hear the people you are talking to so much better down there! Even so, they both thought I said we usually had a pajama party after book readings at Avid Reader (when in fact we tend to go to the Punjabi Palace).

The following morning (hot, humid and very rainy) there was a recovery breakfast at the Stamford Plaza, where survivors of the night before ate far too much and talked about teaching and books and Trudi Canavan’s builders and Alex Adsett meeting DWJ, and Aimee and I started reading aloud Space Train, which Peter M Ball kindly brought along for me (although he assures me the desire to read it will wear off after the first few pages).Then Robert Hoge convened an industry discussion panel at the Metro Arts Building, which this year focused on copyrights and contracts.

Nicky Strickland, Damon Cavalchini, Peter and I stopped at the Belgian Beer Cafe while Aimee went to the art store. Then Peter, Aimee and I had coffee at Aromas before heading off separately to the Valley where Margo Lanagan was reading from her new novel, Tender Morsels in the humidity on the back verandah at Avid Reader to a packed-out crowd (I had my knees in Angela Slatter’s back (I didn’t really get to talk to her properly this weekend, but she had a lovely red rose in her hair) and was probably distracting Jack Dann (to whom many congratulations) with the fan Aimee talked me into carrying around (although otherwise I’m glad I did). I bought a copy of Tender Morsels and Margo wrote that if I found any sentimentality in it I should let her know and she would have them all pulled.

Aimee and I are holding our own Australia Day/post-Aurealis Weekend recovery at the Coffee Club on Monday at the moment, where it is nominally airconditioned.

This is us at the awards (I have a fan here too but it is behind my back):

Aurealis Awards

I’ve put the winners here because I don’t know if the official page is a static one. There are probably more detailed write-ups all around the web if you want the gossip, who cried and who didn’t fall down the stairs on the way to collect their award.

Best Science Fiction Novel: K A Bedford, Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing

Best Science Fiction Short Story: Simon Brown, ‘The Empire’, Dreaming Again, Harper/Voyager

Best Fantasy Novel: Alison Goodman, The Two Pearls of Wisdom, HarperCollins

Best Fantasy Short Story: Cat Sparks, ‘Sammarynda Deep’, Paper Cities, Senses 5 Press

Best Horror Novel: John Harwood, The Seance, Jonathan Cape (Random House Australia)

Best Horror Short Story: Kirstyn McDermott, ‘Painlessness’, Greatest Uncommon Denominator (GUD), #2

Best Anthology: Jonathan Strahan (editor), The Starry Rift, Viking Children’s Books

Best Collection: Sean Williams & Russell B Farr (editor), Magic Dirt: The Best of Sean Williams, Ticonderoga Publications

Best Illustrated Book/Graphic Novel: Shaun Tan, Tales From Outer Suburbia, Allen & Unwin

Best Young Adult Novel: Melina Marchetta, Finnikin of the Rock, Viking Penguin

Best Young Adult Short Story: Trent Jamieson, ‘Cracks’, Shiny, #2

Best Children’s Novel: Emily Rodda, The Wizard of Rondo, Omnibus Books

Best Children’s Illustrated Work/Picture Book: Richard Harland & Laura Peterson (illustrator), Escape!, Under Siege, Race to the Ruins, The Heavy Crown, The Wolf Kingdom series, Omnibus Books

Peter McNamara Convenors’ Award for Excellence: Jack Dann